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Same As He Ever Was: David Byrne at The Anthem

About three songs into his performance at The Anthem on Saturday, David Byrne started to cough. I thought it was intentional; he coughed two more times.

“Oh man,” he began to quip.

The former Talking Heads frontman said something else I didn’t catch over the roaring applause emerging from the audience. In that moment, I knew I would have paid hundreds of dollars to listen to David Byrne cough for two hours. I don’t think I was the only person who felt that way.

Though he’s filled his days with projects ranging from a collaborative record with Annie Clark of St. Vincent to a musical about the life of Imelda Marcos to multiple books, American Utopia marked his first solo album in 14 years. It’s evident he used this solo venture to deep dive into the world of his creation on the accompanying tour while also accommodating a massively different group of listeners. Byrne is nothing if not a man of the people.

Saturday saw the sprawling Anthem transformed into a peaceful concert hall, the floor lined with seats and filled with the sound of chirping birds and soft rain. When Byrne finally took the stage, he sat alone at a table and held a model brain in his hand while contemplatively launching into “Here” and “Lazy” from the new album.

Like a sudden miracle, a full band – matching Byrne in gray, almost deconstructivist suits – made their way onstage. Barefoot and carrying their instruments like a marching band, they launched into Talking Heads’ “I Zimbra.”

No longer a miracle but an apparition, an audience who was thrilled to hear Byrne’s solo ventures was now catapulted into full elation. The band was equally elated. I would never have imagined that a pack of adults carrying 50-plus-pound instruments on their backs while wearing suits would look so happy.

Throughout the night, Byrne and company vacillated between old and new – Talking Heads favorites, deep cuts from American Utopia, even the titular track from the aforementioned St. Vincent venture Love This Giant. Byrne knows his far reach, and thus is able to connect with his diverse audience with such a setlist.

That is where Byrne’s appeal lies – making beautiful sounds reflective of the minutiae and uncertainty of our daily lives. His solo work is a collection of worldly observations through the lens of a cautious optimist with enough creative energy to fuel a whole city – dare I say, the world.

As someone who grew up on Talking Heads – my dad’s CD copy of Sand in the Vaseline was a staple in the family car – and who found respite in Love This Giant during a chaotic freshman year of college, I appreciated his approach to tackling such an illustrious and far reaching career in one live show. There was as much passion from the band – and reciprocated by the audience – in American Utopia’s “Every Day is a Miracle” as sentimental classic “This Must Be The Place.”

During the latter, my seatmate incorrectly screamed the lyrics and got very very close to me with her phone, edging on in-my-face territory while trying to film the whole thing. There are few songs in the world that mean as much to me as “This Must Be The Place.” Of course someone would exhibit hallmark concert annoyances during that song. But somehow, it wasn’t annoying this time.

There are probably millions of people in the world who love that song as much as I do, my boisterous neighbor included. So I screamed the words with her – a minute of connection in a sold-out show, although she probably had no idea I noticed her, or even heard me screaming along.

I don’t know what that song means to her and she doesn’t know what it means to me, and it doesn’t matter at all. The ethereal, electric positivity generated in such a small moment was a testament to everything Byrne does as a songwriter and performer, unintentional coughing fits and all. It was, again, joy.

For more information on David Byrne and his extensive catalog, visit his website.

M.K. Koszycki

M.K.'s entire life revolves around music, whether it be scouring Twitter for the the band of the moment or catching a live show at one of DC's many venues. When she's not at a gig, find her hanging out with her golden retriever, drinking beer with friends or re-watching Twin Peaks for the hundredth time.